Louisiana will need at least $2.5 billion in federal assistance to help its residents rebuild their homes and recover after Hurricane Ida, Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote Monday in a letter to Congress, urging support for disaster relief legislation.
The Democratic governor traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers as deliberations heat up over a stopgap spending bill that includes $28.6 billion in funding for communities hammered over the last two years by natural disasters ranging from hurricanes to wildfires.
The House of Representatives passed the spending bill Tuesday, with only Democratic support. It now heads to the Senate, where Republicans say they will block the measure because it suspends the debt ceiling, allowing the United States to borrow money and avoid a government shutdown.
Altogether, Edwards said Louisiana needs $3.4 billion to address "unmet" housing needs after getting battered by the string of storms, stretching back to Hurricane Laura more than a year ago. The dollar figure would cover recovery expenses not covered by insurance companies or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Edwards estimates that 8,000 homes are now unlivable after sustaining major damage from Hurricane Ida's catastrophic path through southeastern Louisiana. Billions of dollars would go to housing efforts similar to the Road Home program after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or the Restore program following the 2016 floods.
Congressman Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, the only member of Louisiana's House delegation to vote for the legislation, said it includes $5 billion in housing relief for Hurricane Ida. It's unclear how much would be set aside for Louisiana.
"Louisianians have been through a lot and this bill recognizes that struggle," Carter said in a House floor speech. "It also helps us to begin working on those challenges."
The disaster aid is tied to a government funding bill and faces challenges in the Senate, where Republicans are lining up in opposition.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, said Tuesday the United States couldn't afford to let nearly two years worth of natural disasters go unaddressed any longer.
But in a narrowly divided Senate, Cassidy said a bill that suspends the debt ceiling wouldn't get enough support from his Republican colleagues to pass. The Senate is divided 50-50 between parties, and Democrats will be hard-pressed to find 10 Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, said he will likely buck his party leadership and vote for the measure if "the disaster relief portion is acceptable." He added, "Because my people desperately need the help."
“I am committed to disaster assistance," Cassidy said. "They give me all these variations, it includes this, it includes that, it includes this or that. I say just show me the bill and I will tell you how I am going to vote. But I am committed to voting for disaster relief. We got to get relief to folks back home."
Edwards in his letter sought funding for state and local governments, who owe roughly $130 million following last year's storms and another $226 million after Hurricane Ida to cover the non-federal share of FEMA grants.
Preliminary estimates peg crop and timber loss from Hurricane Ida at more than $200 million, and damage to the commercial fishing industry at $480 million, Edwards said.
The storms also caused massive damage to the state's electrical transmission systems, and Edwards said it will likely cost around $750 million to repair the infrastructure following Hurricane Ida. Last year's storms caused $545 million worth of damage to the electrical grid, he wrote.
Edwards also asked for a specific appropriation through the Department of Health and Human Services to shore up health care organizations in Louisiana who sustained damage from the storms and have had to shell out millions of dollars to boost their labor force amid another wave of COVID-19.
"The funding needs described above are critical to our state's recovery, and we need your help to bring them home," Edwards wrote. "The speed of our recovery is also critical to success and to our people who are in need now."
Mark Ballard of the Capitol news bureau and the Associated Press contributed to this report.